||10 Notable Things About September's Hot Vehicle Numbers
While the rest of the world seems to be waiting for the economy to fall through the floor, car and truck buyers seem to have something different in mind.
U.S. car and truck sales climbed 9.9 percent in September, compared to the same month in 2010, and sales are up the same percentage for the year, according to AutoData Corp.'s figures.
But there's a lot more behind those numbers; here are the 10 things we learned from September sales numbers.
1. Americans like good deals and trucks.
Really, they do. In September, more people (53.8 percent) bought trucks than cars, even though for the year, more people (50.5 percent) have bought cars. So why the change in heart? Full-size pickup sales were through the roof, jumping 25.7 percent in September, mostly because many were sold with steep discounts and incentives. Yes, carmakers have to unload last year's models, but teaching consumers to buy only when there's a sale is not a safe business model.
Another reason truck sales were up is that nearly everything qualifies as a truck nowadays. Crossovers like the Mazda CX-7, up 90.8 percent for the month; Jeep Compass, up 305.7 percent; and Dodge Caravan, up 26.9 percent; all contributed to the big truck month. They may qualify as trucks on paper, but few mistake a minivan or oversized wagon as a truck.
2. America's top luxury brand still too close to call.
Lexus has held the title of America's top-selling luxury brand for years. Between supply problems after the March tsunami in Japan and much tougher competition, Lexus will lose that title on Dec. 31. Sales are down 16.9 percent for the year. Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz and BMW are racing ahead. Mercedes holds less than a 5,000-vehicle lead over BMW with three months to go. The real winner could be consumers come December.
3. Small cars not as big as some thought.
If you follow the auto industry, you're bound to hear someone talk about how big -- important -- small cars are. There's some truth to this, of course, because small cars are typically some of the most efficient vehicles out there.
But gas prices seem to have stabilized. Or consumers are just used to them being high. So the fear of rising gas prices has left our collective car-buying psyche. It makes sense that September was not a big month for lots of little cars. Toyota Yaris sales were down 43.5 percent, Chevy Aveo sales were down 80.6 percent (as its Sonic replacement moves into dealerships), Hyundai Accent sales were down 7.4 percent and even the Honda Fit saw sales drop slightly.
The big winners in the small car race were the Ford Fiesta, up 30.1 percent, and the Nissan Versa, up 68.1 percent. The Versa was the only little car to sell more than 10,000 units. In fact, not counting the Kia Soul, which sold 6,666 units, the next best-selling tiny car was the Honda Fit, at 4,737 units.
4. More people buying American.
It has been interesting to follow sales this year as Detroit's carmakers continue to gain share in the marketplace. In September, the traditional domestic carmakers grabbed 48.1 percent of the market, a 16.9 percent jump over last year. For the year, Ford, Chrysler Group LLC and General Motors Co. have 47.3 percent of the market.
One reason often overlooked for the increasing domestic sales is the solid lineups of Ford and GM, in particular. Chrysler, which has improved dramatically in the past two years, still lacks a competitive compact car, though I have been told that it is working on that just as fast as humanly possible.
While it's refreshing to see, I would never tell someone to buy a car or truck because of the nationality of the people who built it, but I would tell them to buy the best vehicle for the best price for what you need. Nowadays, nearly half the time, consumers are choosing something from Detroit.
5. Chrysler: The next million maker.
Chrysler has already likely crossed this threshold with the first week of sales in October. And when the numbers come out at the end of the month, Chrysler will join Ford, Toyota and GM as automakers to sell more than 1 million vehicles during the year.
The milestone would not be that important if it wasn't for the fact that through September last year, Chrysler had only sold 820,000 vehicles. This year, it has sold 996,000 vehicles, a jump of 20.8 percent. No other major carmaker has seen this much improvement over the past year.
Honda and Nissan are the other carmakers that will clear the million vehicle mark by the end of the year.
6. VW Passat running strong.
While many carmakers have adopted a global vehicle approach, meaning they make the same vehicle around the world, Volkswagen has decided to make a few vehicles just for the American market. The compact Jetta was the first to arrive and then this past summer came the midsize Passat.
The move, which created a much less expensive Passat, has been a hit with consumers.
Passat sales were up 339.9 percent in September. Of course, Jetta sedan sales are up 69.3 percent for the year as well. It only proves the point that price matters.
7. Alternative powertrain sales low.
Every month I wait for Chevy Volt sales to shoot through the roof. But sales remain flat with 723 units sold in September and 3,895 sold for the year. Meanwhile, the Nissan Leaf, the all-electric competitor to the Volt, has maintained a steady pace and topped 7,000 units sold for the year, still a low number. The most popular hybrid in the world, the Toyota Prius, has also seen sales lag by more than 10 percent for the year and were down 18.2 percent in September.
So what's going on? Lower gas prices and high-mileage compact cars have consumers thinking twice before committing to hybrids or electrics. There's still room for these cars in the market, but maybe not as much as some people think.
8. It's still for sale.
Beyond the top-selling vehicles, there were a few other notables. Chevrolet managed to unload four compact Cobalts, the car the Cruze replaced a year ago. Lincoln sold 709 Town Cars even though its production was halted as well. Honda sold more discontinued Elements, 799, than it sold Ridgelines, 700.
9. Enthusiasts won't like this.
The two vehicles many enthusiasts shun over at Porsche also happen to be the two best-selling Porsches in America. The Porsche Cayenne, the big SUV, has nearly half of all of Porsche's sales. Through September, Porsche has sold 10,301 Cayennes. During the same time, it has sold 12,633 cars. And of all of those cars, nearly half of those, 5,184, have been the Panamera sedan.
It goes to show you that sometimes it's the unexpected successes that can push a brand into a whole new market.
10. Fun with numbers.
Ford sold more F-Series pickups, 54,410, in September than Hyundai Motor Corp. sold total vehicles, 52,051. Bentley sold nearly as many vehicles, 151, as Chevrolet sold HHRs, 152. Land Rover sold nearly as many vehicles, 2,740, as Fiat sold 500s, 2,773. The Ford Ranger flexed its muscle in September with 7,154 units sold, outselling the Dodge Challenger, 3,328, Chevrolet Camaro, 6,994, and Ford Mustang, 5,054.
(Source: Scott Burgess, The Detroit News, 10/08/11)
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